With a painful goal, Christian Pulisic led the USA in the controversial group final against Iran to the round of 16.

    The former BVB professional scored the acclaimed winning goal in the 1-0 (1-0) (38th) in a duel that was politically charged and thus the focus of international attention.

    The USA, runners-up in their group, meet the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Saturday, who won their group after beating tournament hosts Qatar 2-0.

    “In the first half we showed what we’re capable of as a footballer, in the second it was more about energy and determination. We’re glad we made it,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter, relieved.

    24 years after Iran’s 2-1 victory at the 1998 World Cup, the Americans celebrated a prestigious victory after a dramatic finale.

    After missing out on the World Cup in Russia four years ago, the USA are back in the knockout stages, as they were at Brazil 2014.

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    Pulisic’s hit with consequences

    Pulisic threw himself into the ball after a beautiful combination over Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest in the scene of the day, colliding with Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand in the process.

    Five minutes later, the 24-year-old limped onto the pitch of the Al-Tuhmama Stadium again in front of 42,127 spectators. After the break, however, he was unable to continue due to a stomach injury.

    The Chelsea pro’s energetic shot on goal was emblematic of the passion with which the two rivals tackled a fast-paced knockout game.

    USA more structured and clarified

    On the pitch, despite the game’s overwhelming importance, the focus was on the sport due to the serious political differences between the US and Iran – as requested by Berhalter and his Iranian counterpart Carlos Queiroz.

    Despite the frenetic cheering by shouts, drums and horns from the vast majority of Iranian fans, his selection for the two-time tournament goalscorer Mehdi Taremi had a hard time against the more structured and calm Americans – but turned up the heat after the break.

    The team around midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, who ran onto the field with his arms outstretched and then put his hands in front of his face, braced themselves against the World Cup with a lot of dedication.

    Not much was missing, and Saman Ghoddos, who came on for the ineffective Leverkusen Sardar Azmoun, would have headed in to equalize (52′). Ezatolahi also sniffed the 1-1 with his shot (70th).

    The throng of Iranian fans in green, white and red didn’t give up in their vociferous support from the stands – neither did the team on the pitch. In the end, the football-crazy country shared the fever in vain.

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